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I got an
email from the SWM recently telling me to shorten my columns
to about 650 words. My columns are normally around 1000 words,
so that's 350 fewer words to write, which should make my job
easier. I don't have a problem with this, but I do have a problem
with the logic behind this move. SWM wants to increase the font
size (decrease the total number of words) to make the magazine
more reader-friendly. The argument that larger fonts and fewer
words make a magazine reader-friendly is quite specious.
do not understand how 1000 words of what is sometimes funny,
mostly honest, and essentially drivel, can suddenly become less
drivel and more reader-friendly when it is cut down to 650.
It is just drivel in bigger fonts. In fact the opposite might
be considered to be a more reasonable editorial position. Printing
longer pieces in smaller fonts, so that readers may not read
or detect the drivel that is written. The strategy is a bit
like the one used in insurance documents where small fonts are
used and the language is mostly incomprehensible legalese.
it is well-known, is the soul of wit. But brevity is by means
a guarantee of wit. Some of the mottoes that I quoted in my
last column were very brief, such as mottoes ought be, but completely
devoid of good sense, humour, and taste. One can be brief and
big (font-wise) and still be utterly stupid and inane. The quotes
printed in this paper's City Express column regularly for their
"humour, insight, and sheer outrageousness" always
fall completely flat. They appear in big fonts, are sometimes
italicized and sometimes bold, and usually separate from the
rest of the paper. They are invariably boring and unfriendly.
I have never
felt like ripping my guts out laughing at the sheer outrageousness
of any of them. I have not been able to even twist my mouth
into forming the shadow of an amused smile. My own feeling is
that not even myopic, geriatric readers used to reading the
SWM with magnifying glasses would find these utterly unfunny
utterances reader-friendly. Eyes-friendly, yes, but not reader-friendly.
if you can come up with sharp quips and probes, delicate thrusts,
or even frontal verbal assaults, which are good and clever,
printing them in small fonts would not detract from their impact.
Sharp one-liners and short takes have merit in themselves and
do not depend on the size of fonts to make them reader-friendly.
Take Descartes' classic one-liner, for example. Cogito, ergo
sum. I think, therefore, I am. And now consider an American
humourist's play on the famous line. I think I am, therefore
I am. I think.
I was recently
introduced to George Carlin, author of the above bon mot, a
'thinking person's comic" by a Bangladeshi undergraduate
studying in the US. Carlin's "razor-sharp observations
on God, language, death, pets, driving, food, sports, airplanes,
advertisements, news, businessmen, and much, much more"
might be hilarious reading for all of SWM's readers with good
stomachs. Good stomachs are necessary because Carlin does not
pull any of his punches: he is direct, abusive, irreverent,
visceral, and utterly honest. His second book, Napalm and Silly
Putty (which I have), contains the same type of drivel as the
first book, Brain Droppings (which I don't). Here is just one
time they give you all that civic bullshit about voting, keep
in mind that Hitler was elected in a full, free, democratic
election." And so was George Bush, in an election that
was almost full and free. And so was Arnold Schwarzenegger in
California. If this is the best America can do, we have no reasons
to complain. There is a good chance we might do something similar
when we next vote.
I was recently
holidaying in Cox's Bazaar at the height of the holiday season.
I had been reading Carlin all the way on the train to Chittagong.
When I hit the main beach in the afternoon just before sunset,
there were thousands just walking about. The beach was like
a traffic jam without vehicles. It suddenly occurred to me that
there is so much productive procreation going on in Bangladesh.
Carlin would have used a word I dare not.
am back in Dhaka now, just getting ready to re-read one of the
most reader-friendly novels I have ever read: the 1397-page
novel A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Such creative
works have great prophylactic value.
I reckon I have overshot my limit a little.
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